Looking forward – to sanctions renewal

May 2, 2016

With all eyes upon events in Odessa during the 2nd – 9th May period, and numerous entries of late being very Odessa-centric, it is perhaps worthy of looking ahead following on from the last entry relating to the Stability * Democracy Act/STAND Act submitted to the US Congress, and such matters.

Before doing so however, a few lines of appreciation to the people that share the same city as this blog, and the tolerance displayed (at the time of writing).  That there have been (thus far) so few arrests, so few weapons seized/discoveries made, and no lynching of the odious politicians that either turned up at Odessa Airport to be turned away (which will naturally be spun as police impotence to uphold the law by Opposition Block adherents),

or of those that both pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian consider to have more than a hand in the tragedy 2 years ago,

is a credit to the society with whom the blog lives within.  Grateful words also to the police and national guard who whilst undoubtedly annoying/upsetting some people, kept order and upheld the rule of law (again at the time of writing).

May such tolerance from all concerned see every soul in Odessa past the 9th May that holds the same potential for grievous stupidity.

Onward – The last entry having concentrated upon the STAND Act and the conditionality it seeks to place into statute with regard a US President removing sanctions upon The Kremlin, a reader may also turn a watchful eye toward EU sanctions renewal in June.

As ineffectual as the recent vote in the French National Assembly is upon the French position today – and more to the point in June when EU sanctions vis a vis Russia are due for renewal – a reader may ponder how many more renewals there will be when the EU requires consensus to continue.

Ergo, sanctions will be renewed in June, but whether they will can be maintained indefinitely,  or even throughout 2017, is far less certain – particularly with significant elections in France and Germany in 2017.

That said, such things are event driven, and a fumble within The Kremlin that manifests with awful consequences within the occupied Donbas (or elsewhere, for although there may be no prima facie links to events elsewhere, that in no way means they will not be linked in the minds of policymakers or public) would probably see an immediate rediscovery of European backbone – at least for a while longer.


In short, whomever a reader believes is responsible for herding the European cats toward maintaining sanctions unity – be they believe it is Berlin or Washington – or both – that capital will really begin to have their work cut out for them from 2017.

Naturally nobody expects The Kremlin to re-position itself or make any concessions.  The Kremlin is entrenched.  Any deal is a deal on Kremlin terms – or no deal.  The attitude is one of no matter how much pain you can inflict (whilst inflicting some upon yourselves in the process), we can take it – and more, on top of that we can inflict our own pain on ourselves as well – and take it too.

Indeed, discounting Peter the Great’s victory over a weakening Swedish kingdom, that of Alexander I over an significantly overreaching Napoleon, and Stalin’s efforts with the alliance defeating Hitler, there are too few other military outcomes that can be plausibly trumpeted as worthy of the self-perception of an international or indeed regional power.  Crimea 2014 is a military highlight that cannot therefore be undone (for a generation or two at least).

Thus Crimean sanctions will stay for a long time – both US and EU imposed.  That they will not be relaxed is not in question, it is those sanctions imposed over the occupied Donbas that are the issue at hand.

With a clearly identifiable policy of not wanting to be like “the West”, having no intention of being like “the West” and only having any interest in “western clubs” if afforded a veto or being “more equal” than other equals, The Kremlin reinforces its “only deals on our terms” position.

(Unfortunately for The Kremlin it is not an “equal” to the US, nor China, nor the EU outside of hard power in some, but not all, cases – and in these globalised days it takes far more than hard power to be “a power”.  It’s made even more difficult particularly when the hard power you have is limited by projection ability, technology, strategic depth, and it’s use is not based upon determinable strategy but tactical opportunity.)

Of course this all retards Russian development (again) as investment and technology transfer declines and then takes some convincing to return to pre-existing levels.  Years, indeed decades can be lost.

However the inevitable sanctions fatigue will feature before The Kremlin’s self-harming reaches a point whereby it needs to send out rapprochement signals for fear of a self-inflicted terminal injury – this fatigue of course if there is no unforeseen events to renew European resolve in 2017.

It was always the issue with sanctions – particularly when sanctions are part of a policy tool kit, and not policy in and of themselves which they appear to be (unless anybody can actually identify a tangible policy in dealing with the current Kremlin that goes beyond them).  Those that urged caution in their implementation in lieu of policy (this blog included) will take no solace from their eventual collapse due to a lack of maintained unity.

That said, aside from a quick PR victory for The Kremlin, sanctions removal will do very little to turn around the internal economic or societal situation that faces The Kremlin within its own borders.  It may help in justifying the presidential election results, although that result was always beyond doubt.  It was beyond doubt in 2012, for Mr Putin was not returning as president for a single term.

In summary, whilst political and diplomatic discourse continues with the policy necrophilia known as Minsk (which will not be fully implemented), the tying of sanctions to them is now clearly problematic (as many stated it would be) looking forward.  Sanctions fatigue in 2017  is increasingly likely to gather momentum whilst Minsk will remain unfulfilled.

The chances of tying sanctions relief to other conditionalities are small – for what other conditionalities are there relating to the reasons they were officially imposed – the territorial integrity of Ukraine?  Sanctions after all are not a punishment but a tool to alter another’s course.  That course will not be altering.

The justifications for retaining them are naturally being seen to do something when so many international treaties have been sacrificed by The Kremlin within Ukraine, and that “sanctions take time and should remain” – even if the outcomes are limited.  Yet fatigue demands swift results or acquiesce, and sanctions fatigue is upon the 2017 horizon unless either specific new events drive them onward, or new reserves of consensus stamina are found from within – somewhere.

For how long can the US herd the 28 EU cats, or if that be the purview of Berlin, how long can it herd the other 27 EU cats (assuming the UK remains) whilst simultaneously dealing with its own coalition friction over the matter?  (Admittedly recent Kremlin meddling within German internal affairs has hardened the view of many of the German elite – but even so.)   Next month almost assuredly EU sanctions will be extended, but renewals in 2017 seems far less certain.

A reader may ponder how much forethought policymakers have given this horizon.

The message to Ukraine from all of this is to stop talking and start walking reform in 2016 so that the Europeans can successfully frame the sanctions as accomplishing something progressive – directly or otherwise – for there will be no change of course from The Kremlin.

Alternatively, once the sanctions fail to be renewed, perhaps then Minsk to will quietly shuffle from the discourse.



  1. “Thus Crimean sanctions will stay for a long time – both US and EU imposed. That they will not be relaxed is not in question, it is those sanctions imposed over the occupied Donbas that are the issue at hand.” Surely the other way round? Putin’s State takes over Crimea with one death, robbery of assets and persecution, but in Donbass the Russian military of Putin’s State are actually engaged in out and out warfare. Surely that line is most important to defend European enlightenment and civilised values – because people are dying due to Putin’s politics every day – even more than preventing stealing territory – unnecessarily by overwhelming military presence – as in Crimea where the Russian move was just for home PR (as well as theft of people’s assets – more nakedly even than in Donetsk and Luhansk but no less effectively).

    • No I doubt policymakers will follow that line. Crimean sanctions will stay due to it being an affront to everything Europe has been built upon since 1946 – the illegal annexation demands as much and will get it. It is on-going and open ended “costs” for breaking international law.

      Events in the Donbas are officially classed as a “terrorist operation” by Ukraine – not even the occupation that it is by a warring neighbour. Despite the fact it is something that will last for many years hence, there is thus no permanency to the situation nor legal recognition of what is the reality. If Ukraine will not recognise the occupied Donbas on the legal plain as an occupied territory then there is little likelihood that the Europeans or US will either. Half-measures equals a half-response. A half-response equals sanctions fatigue. Both the EU and US have been very clear about which sanctions were imposed over Crimea and which were imposed over events in the Donbas. The latest proposed STAND Act by the US also identifies and separates Crimea from the Donbas and carries the clear inference that the Crimean sanctions are expected to last a very, very long time.

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